Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Lovers Point-Julia Platt State Marine Reserve

Monterey beckons to people who love the seaside. Families, kayakers, divers, and photographers flock to its breathtaking ocean views, historic charm, and easy coastal access.

With the Pacific Ocean hugging this coastal city, locals and visitors alike can easily find themselves on the shores of a marine protected area (MPA). One of the area’s MPAs is Lovers Point-Julia Platt State Marine Reserve (SMR) which, despite covering less than half a square mile, protects some of Monterey Bay’s most iconic living creatures. Tidepools provide a glimpse of the world beneath the waves, harbor seals frequently haul out on the sandy beaches and just offshore, kelp forests provide a foundation for marine life to thrive.

MPA map
Lovers Point-Julia Platt State Marine Reserve, flanked by two conservation areas (click to enlarge).
CDFW map by Marine Region GIS Lab

Established in September 2007, Lovers Point-Julia Platt SMR is one of 29 MPAs found along California’s central coast. As a reserve, the regulations at this marine protected area are more restrictive than those of neighboring conservation areas. Visitors can enjoy recreational activities like diving, kayaking, and tide pooling, but removal of any marine resource is prohibited within Lovers Point-Julia Platt SMR (and all SMRs statewide).

Initially called Lovers Point SMR, the name was amended by the California Fish and Game Commission in 2014 to commemorate the pioneering achievements of Julia Platt, the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology. Platt graduated from the University of Vermont in 1882, and after struggling to gain respect as a female academic, became a civic leader and was eventually elected Mayor of Pacific Grove. Julia Platt is remembered for her fierce determination in defending public access to the coast and establishing marine refuges in Monterey and Pacific Grove. Today, Lovers Point-Julia Platt SMR carries on her legacy.

harbor seals
Harbor seal with pup
photo by T. Heitzenrater

One easy way to view Lovers Point-Julia Platt SMR is by taking a stroll along a portion of the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. Visitors walking along the trail often see marine mammals and sea birds that frequent the SMR. Harbor seals can almost always be found on the sandy beaches, particularly at the aptly named Seal Cove near Hopkins Marine Station. If you are lucky enough to visit during pupping season (between March and May), you may see harbor seal pups resting on the sand, waiting for their mothers to return from hunting. While observation is fine, remember to stay at least 300 feet from marine mammals on the beach, and never disturb them. All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Rocky tidepool area at Lover’s Point
photo by T. Heitzenrater

For those looking to explore more marine life from shore, a visit to this SMR between Seal Cove and Lovers Point Beach during low tide will expose many interesting life forms in the rock pools. These tide pools are home to numerous California mussels and hermit crabs. Look closer and you may find sea anemones and rough keyhole limpets hiding among the rocks. You might even be lucky enough to spot a juvenile fish caught in a pool or a crab hiding in a crevice. Just remember to tread lightly to avoid hurting the delicate animals.

If you are a diver and have a chance to explore beneath the water, you may see a greater variety of marine habitats, including rocky reefs, kelp forests, and sandy sea floors. While diving, you may see rockfish hiding from harbor seals in the kelp forest, California halibut hidden in the sand near beds of sand dollars, and rock crabs crawling among the cobbles in search of a meal.

Lovers Point Beach, at the west end of this SMR, is one of the only spots on the West Coast where you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean due to the curve of Monterey Bay’s shoreline. A gentle slope at Lovers Point Beach allows for easy access to the water. Scuba divers and kayakers can easily launch from shore, and on Sundays local swimmers gather here for an early morning swim in the well-protected cove.

Even though Lovers Point-Julia Platt SMR is small, there are many ways to enjoy it and view its diverse marine species, either from shore or in the water. Come on out and see for yourself what this MPA has to offer!

Lovers Point-Julia Platt State Marine Reserve is one of the 124 MPAs in California’s statewide MPA Network. Please visit CDFW’s MPA website for more information, and sign up to receive updates about the MPA Management Program.

MPA logopost by Tamara Heitzenrater, CDFW Scientific Aid


Learn more about MPAs by diving into the
Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!